The Vedas, considered by Hindus as the most sacred books, are four in number: the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda and the Atharva Veda. The Rig Veda is a collection of 1,028 hymns which were used when the Aryan sacrifices were offered. The Yajur Veda consists of formulae for use by the priest who performed the sacrificial actions. The Sama Veda is a rearranged version of some of the hymns of the RigVeda. The Atharva Veda consists of materials like spells, charms, and chants[1]. The Vedas mostly contain hymns, addressed to Hindu deities, and texts for the sacrificial rites, and spells, incantation and charms. There are hymns in which not only gods or deified beings, but even a sacrificial post, weapons, etc., are considered as deity[2].

The Vedas are believed by Hindus themselves to have had a mythological origin. According to some account, there are 21 versions of the Rig Veda, 42 of the Yajur Veda, 12 of each of the Sama Veda and the Atharva Veda. Each school believed that it possessed the true Veda. The existing Rig Veda, which is the most prominent among the four Vedas, is the version of one school only[1].

The Vedas are not the work of a single person but a collection of different strata of thought of successive generations of thinkers of the past. They were communicated to a number of rishis or saints, who transmitted them to their disciples. They were originally composed orally and transmitted orally before being put in written form. The oral emphasis is indicated by the very use of the general title ‘sruti’ (that which was heard).

As to the date of the Vedas, there is nothing certainty known. But they are among the oldest literary works of the world. It is believed that even centuries after the art of writing was introduced in India, the Vedas were not committed to writing because those who could write them were threatened with the punishment of hell[2].

The name of famous sage Krishnadaipayan is very pertinent to any discussion on the Vedas. He collected the Vedas, gave it a proper shape, and thus became known as Vedavayas. He is also believed to have composed the Mahabharata, all the Puranas and the Upapuranas. It was Max Muller, a German orientalist, who edited the Sanskrit text of the Rig Veda in six volumes[3].

The Upanishads

The Upanishadas, 200 in number, are the outcome of the new enquiries after the truth made by the Kshatriyas. They made these efforts in an attempt to prove their equality with the Brahmans in learning and religious culture. These sacred books speak of the Supreme Being, the All-pervading Soul, the Universal Self from whom all the manifested universe has come forth[1].

The Mahabharata

The Mahabharata is one of the two great epics of Hinduism. It is about a great battle between the five sons of Pandu and the sons of Pandu’s brother Dhritarastra. The battle eventually led to the destruction of the entire race except one survivor who continued the dynasty. The sons of Pandu, Judhistir, Vhima, Arjun, Nakul and Sahadeva are called Pandavas. They are the central characters in the Mahabharata.

The Mahabharata is believed to be deeply infused with religious implications because it contains many passages in which religion is systematically treated. The epic, therefore, came to be regarded as one of the sacred books. Vedavayas is believed to have written the Mahabharata. But this seems to be impossible because it took several centuries for the epic to become so large in size. Most of the materials which it contains date back to the Vedic period and the rest was continually added until to the medieval period.

The Bhagavat Gita

The Bhagavad Gita is the most popular book of Hindu scripture, regarded as the Bible of modern Hinduism. It is a part of the Mahabharata whose author is believed to be Vyasa. For most Hindus, the Gita represents the essence of Hinduism and its ethics are regarded as very sublime. Gandhi acknowledged it as his spiritual reference book. The main message of the Gita is that there are many ways to salvation.

The Gita is in the form of a long dialogue between Arjun (one of the sons of Pandu) and Krishna, his chariot-driver, friend, and adviser. Krishna was the eighth incarnation of Vishnu and is the “god-philosopher” of the Gita.

The Ramayana

The Ramayana, another great epic of Hinduism, presents the story of Rama and his wife Sita. Being deprived of the kingdom, Rama was exiled to the forest with his wife and his brother Lakshmana. While in the forest, Sita was abducted by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka (present Sri Lanka). Rama recovered her with the help of Hanumana.

The Puranas

The Puranas are compositions which treat in encyclopedic manner the myths, legends, and genealogies of gods, heroes, and saints. The major Puranas are 18 in number; there are also minor Puranas which are also 18 in number.[1] The date of these books could not be determined but it is believed that none of them is older than the 8th century CE., although some of the legends incorporated in them may have come from much earlier times.[2]

The Tantras

The Tantras are in the form of a dialogue between Siva and his wife. In answer to her questions, Siva gives various instructions concerning worship. These books form the authority for the faith and ceremonies of the Saktas, who are the worshippers of the wife of Siva. The Saktas regard these books as the fifth Veda.



Islam is a religion of both belief and action. The rules and regulations which govern all these constitute what is called Shari’ah. The primary sources of Islamic Shari’ah are the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The Qur’an is a divine revelation; every word of it is from God Almighty. The teachings contained in the Qur’an have been demonstrated, explained, and expounded by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) through his words and actions. The Sunnah, also called hadith, refers to the Prophet’s sayings, actions and information about his approvals or disapprovals of any particular thing.

The Qur’an

The word Qur’an literally means ‘reading’. It is the word of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) through the angel Gabriel and recorded in the book called Mushaf, which came down to us intact, unaltered, and free from any change or distortion. The divine revelation started when Muhammad (pbuh) was forty years old, and continued for twenty-three years until his demise. The purpose of the Qur’an is to guide humanity to the straight path chosen by God. The Qur’an is the last of all the divine books.

The Qur’an is a plain book which addresses the human beings as a whole. It makes its appeal in the most direct manner, touching human receptive faculties all at once. Thus it generates feelings, impressions and conceptions of the truth of existence that no other method known to mankind can generate. Moreover, all these are profound, comprehensive, precise, lucid and expressed in a unique style. The Qur’an has an inimitable style and symphony and the very sounds of it easily move one to tears. It is a book which has no parallel. Quraan is a literary masterpiece of surpassing excellence.

It is a book given to the people of all time and climate and not to a particular race. The ordering of its chapters and verses is not meant to give the Qur’an a topical structure. The order given by the Prophet on instruction from the angel Gabriel fulfills the condition of the literary sublime in Arabic. It is composed of a series of clusters of verses, each cluster treating a different topic, but constituting a complete unit, even if it is only one or two short sentences.

The Qur’an has been translated in many languages of the world. The first translation was issued in Latin in 1143; and the earliest English rendering appeared in 1449.[1]

Preservation of the Qur’an

The Qur’an was revealed in parts and piecemeal, sometimes a single verse, sometimes a few verses and sometimes a complete chapter. It has been preserved in two ways simultaneously: writing and memorization. The Prophet (pbuh) was illiterate. So when a fragment of the Qur’an was revealed, he called one from among his literate companions and dictated it to him, indicating at the same time, the exact position of the new fragment in the fabric of what had already been revealed. He, then, asked the scribe to read to him what had been dictated so that he could be sure that it was written correctly. This was one of the two ways in which the Qur’an was preserved. The most famous scribes who recorded the wahy (revelations) were Zayid ibn Thabit, Ubai ibn Ka’b, Mu’az ibn Jabal, Mu’awiah ibn Abu Sufyan, and the four ‘rightly-guided’ caliphs (Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthman and ‘Ali) – (May Allah be pleased with all).[1]

While being recorded on different types of materials (parchment, leather, camels’ scapula, wooden tablets, stones, etc.) used for writing at that time, the Qur’an was memorized wholly by the Prophet and a large number of his companions and partly by every Muslim. Every Muslim is required to memorize at least a few verses of the Qur’an because the recital of some of its verses is an essential part of the daily salat (Namaz) performed five times a day. Moreover, recitation of the Quran is itself a form of worship which Muslims are recommended to perform. Apart from reciting the Qur’an in and outside the regular namaz and regularly in the salat al-tahajjud (late night prayer), the Prophet (R.A) would recite to angel Gabriel in the month of Ramadhan the whole Qur’an (so far revealed). In Ramadhan preceding his death, angel Gabriel made him recite it to him twice.

During the period of the Prophet, the verses and chapters of the Qur’an recorded on different materials were not placed together. During the period of Abu Bakr (R.A), the first caliph of Islam, seventy famous hafiz[2] (men who completely memorized Quran) were martyred in the battle of Yamama. Now it was felt necessary to safeguard the Qur’an against the possibility of being lost and to compile it in a proper book form.

The task was assigned to Zayid ibn Thabit (R.A), the chief scribe of the wahy. He accomplished this job under the supervision of the Sahaba (companions) of the Prophet (pbuh). The final and complete version was checked and approved by all who heard the Qur’an from the Prophet (pbuh) and committed it to their memories and hearts. This was done less than two years after the death of the Prophet (pbuh). Revelations were still fresh and alive in the minds of the scribes, hafizs and other companions of the Prophet. The manuscript prepared by Zayid (R.A) was deposited with Abu Bakr (R.A) and after his death, with ‘Umar (R.A), the second caliph. When ‘Umar (R.A) died, the manuscript passed on to his daughter Hafsa (R.A).

The period of ‘Uthman (R.A), the third caliph, witnessed vast expansion of the Islamic state; Muslims scattered from the capital and a large number of converts (speaking languages other than Arabic) entered the fold of Islam. Many of the people who did not see the Prophet (pbuh) or hear him started committing mistakes in reading the Qur’an. Differences in recitation and intonation began to cause disputes among Muslims. ‘Uthman (R.A) swiftly acted to meet the situation. After consultation with all the leading authorities, he formed a committee of four members from among the former scribes of revelations including Zayid ibn Thabit (R.A). The committee was entrusted to prepare copies of the compilation prepared during the period of Abu Bakr(R.A)[1] after a thorough review. All the copies in use were collected and replaced by one standard copy which was to be used according to the accent and dialect of Quraish, the very same dialect in which the Qur’an was revealed. The authorized version bore the seal and signature of ‘Uthman (R.A). This was done within nineteen years of the death of the Prophet (pbuh). From that time onwards, the same version has been in use without the slightest change in words or order or even diacritical marks. Copies bearing the signature of ‘Uthman (R.A) still exist in Tashkent and Istanbul.

The Qur’an, as it exists today in millions of copies, retains the purity of the original text compiled fourteen centuries ago. Moreover, there are thousands of hafizs (both Arabs and non-Arabs) all over the world who are preserving the sacred book in their hearts. This unique feature of the Qur’an is one of its many miracles which testifies to the truth contained in the promise made by God with regard to its preservation.[2] The purity of the text of the Qur’an through fourteen centuries is a clear evidence of the eternal care with which the divine book is guarded through all ages.

From these facts, it has been concluded by the scholars that the Qur’an stands today as it first came down, and as it always will be. To it there has never been any addition; from it there was no omission; and in it there occurred no corruption. Its history is as clear as daylight; its authority is unquestionable; and its complete preservation is beyond doubt ”

Unique Characteristics of the Qur’an

The Qur’an has many unique characteristics. Some of these are as follows:[1]

•         It is the finest and sublime masterpiece of literature. It is a magnificent document that has been known for fourteen centuries because of its matchlessness or inimitability. It is not only distinguished in the beauty of its language, but also by the presence of facts and principles that could never have been known at the time of their revelation.

•         It is God’s eternal miracle revealed to the Prophet (pbuh) for all succeeding generations. In response to those who doubt the authorship of the Qur’an, God Almighty has challenged the most articulate Arabs to produce even one solitary chapter which can be remotely comparable to the Qur’an. But to this day, no one has succeeded in meeting the challenge.

•         It is neither prose nor poetry, but a unique fusion of both. The verses into which it is divided are threaded together by loose rhymes into shorter or longer sequences within the surah (chapter). The rhythms of those sequences vary sensibly according to the subject-matter. Each surah is a unity within itself, and the whole Qur’an is recognized as a single revelation, self-consistent to the highest degree.[2]

•         As a whole, it ‘is a book without beginning or end.’ It can be read or recited by beginning at any verse and stopping at any verse. ‘It is infinite, or rather, a window to infinite, a window through which the reader can peek at the infinite space of values and principles constituting the divine will.’

•         Many of the scientific truths have been mentioned in the Qur’an in its own subtle manner. The statements of scientific nature mentioned in it are in complete agreement with modern sciences.[3] In the words of Maurice Bucaille, “In view of the level of knowledge in Muhammad’s day, it is inconceivable that many of the statements in the Qur’an which are connected with science could have been the work of a man. It is, moreover, perfectly legitimate, not only to regard the Qur’an as the expression of revelation, but also to award it a very special place, on account of the guarantee of authenticity it provides and the presence in it of scientific statements which, when studied today, appear as a challenge to explanation in human terms.[4]

•         It contains a complete code which provides for all areas of life, whether spiritual, intellectual, political, social or economic. It is a code which has no boundaries.

•         It is a unique book with a supreme author, an eternal message and a universal relevance. Its contents are not confined to a particular theme or style, but contain the foundations for an entire system of life, covering a whole spectrum of issues, which range from specific articles of faith and commandments to general moral teachings, rights and obligations, crime and punishments, personal and public law, and a host of other private and social concerns.

•         It is the actual word of God, not created but revealed for the benefit of all mankind. God Almighty has taken upon Him the duty of preserving it forever in its entirety. So well has it been preserved, both in memory and in writing that the Arabic text we have today is identical to the text that was revealed to the Prophet. Not even a single letter has yielded to corruption during the passage of centuries. And so it will remain forever.

•         It is a theoretical and a practical book, not only moralizing but also defining specially the permissible and the forbidden.

•         The importance of understanding the message of the Qur’an is understandable, but simply reciting it with the intention of seeking God’s pleasure and rewards is also an act of worship and meritorious in itself.

•         In the history of mankind, no book, divine or otherwise, has received so much care as has been received by the Qur’an. Not only its verses and words, but also each letter of the Arabic alphabet used in writing has been counted.

•         Since its revelation, it is being read not only in every moment, but many times by the same devotee.

•         It is the only book which has a great range of commentaries compiled in every century down to the present day. According to a recent survey, it has at least seventy commentaries/translations in English language alone.[5]

The Hadith

The life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a model which provides every detail as to how a person can lead his or her life according to the tenets of Islam. He not only gave sermons but showed by practice and example how the teachings of Islam could be followed. All these were recorded and have been preserved in detail in what is called hadith.

The term hadith refers to an account concerning Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It includes his sayings, his actions, his approval or disapproval of anything that happened or was done in his presence or within his knowledge, his judgements and rulings, the way he did anything, or conducted various affairs relating to his individual life, his family, the community or the state.[1] As a source of Islamic Shan’ah, the hadith stands next to the Qur’an. The mission of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was not only to convey the divine message (i.e. the Qur’an) to mankind, but also to explain and demonstrate it to them through his words and actions, and provide them with laws and rules based on it. These are what constitute the hadith.

Preservation of the Hadith

Muslims took utmost care in preserving the hadiths in order to be able to follow the Prophet (pbuh) completely in every sphere of their lives and also to convey the same to others. The Prophet himself made every possible arrangement to ensure that his message reached the people in full detail. He used three methods for this purpose. He taught verbally his companions various things from time to time. Secondly, he issued many letters to kings, rulers, chieftains, and Muslim governors. These contained call to Islam, admonition, and also his views on various subjects. Finally, through his own practice, he gave lessons to his companions and issued clear instructions to follow him.


While teaching his companions, the Prophet (pbuh) urged them to convey to others what they had learned from him. He said: “Pass on from me, even if it is only a verse (or sentence].”[1] He also said: “May God brighten a servant who hears what I say, learns it by heart, preserves it, and passes it on [to others].[2] He not only gave directions to convey his message, but also declared that there was a reward for teachers and students. He stated that pursuit of knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim.[3] One who conceals knowledge is liable to punishment on the Day of Judgement.[4] At the same time, he made his companions alert about conveying his teachings correctly and urged them to be very careful in that respect He warned those who may attribute something to him which he did not say or do. He said: “Let him who deliberately lies about me come to his abode in the fire”.[5]

The companions of the Prophet (pbuh) had very keen interest in his sayings, deeds and actions. They used to listen to every word uttered by him with utmost care. In his absence, they used to review and repeat what they had learnt. They also used to practice what they had learnt with full care and, therefore, the lessons always remained fresh in their memories. Not fully depending on their memories, a group of them recorded what they learnt from the Prophet (pbuh) from time to time. Unlike the Qur’an, the hadith, however, was not compiled officially during the life-time of the Prophet (pbuh). The reason was to eliminate any possibility of the Qur’an being mixed with the hadith.

When the Qur’an was complete and the revelation came to an end with the demise of the Prophet (pbuh), it was right time for compilation of the hadith. During the period of the Sahaba, most of the hadiths had already been written but remained scattered. With the expansion of the Islamic state to the surrounding regions, the companions also scattered to preach the divine message. The need for compilation of the hadith on a large scale was urgently felt when it was apprehended that this vital source of Islamic Shari’ah might be lost with the demise of the scholars from among the Tabi’in (followers of the Sahaba). The emergence of some unscrupulous elements in the rapidly expanding domain of Islam fabricating hadiths to serve their own interests made it more imperative to protect the hadiths from distortion and compile them after rigorous scrutiny. The work started on a large scale during the period of Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd aI-‘Aziz (R.A), and was accomplished by scholars like Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim (R.A).

Here, it may be pertinent to give some idea about the preservation and accuracy of the hadiths with an illustration. Every hadith has two parts, namely sanad (the chain through which the text reached the compiler) and matn (the text). The hadith quoted below from the Sahih al-Bukhari is an example in point:

“Bukhari (R.A) said that Sulaiman Abd ar-Rabi’ (R.A) informed him saying that Isma’il ibn Ja’far (R.A) said that Nafi’ ibn Malik ibn Abi Amir Abu Suhail (R.A) informed him on the authority of his father that Abu Huraira (R.A)  related that the Prophet (pbuh) said: the signs of a hypocrite are three: Whenever he speaks he lies. Whenever he makes a promise, he breaks it. Whenever trusted with something he proves to be dishonesty.[6]

Muslims preserved not only what they learnt from the Prophet (pbuh) but also the details about the lives of those who were involved in the compilation and preservation of the hadith. The experts in the science of the hadith are called muhaddithin. Among them were Sahaba (companions), Tabi’in  (followers). Tab’i Tabi’in (followers of the followers), and many others up to the end of the fourth Hijra century. The detailed information about them has been preserved. The number of these people stands at over one hundred thousand. This vast treasure of biographical data, known as Asma al-Rijal is a science which has no parallel in the history of knowledge.

Among the most celebrated collections of the hadith are Sahih al-Bukhari Sahih Muslim, Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, Sunan Abu Dawud, Sunan al-Nasai, Sunan ibn Majah, Mu’atta Imam Malik and Musnad Imam Ahmad (R.A).The hadiths of the Prophet (pbuh) as we find them in various compilations came down to us after undergoing several stages of scrutiny over time. The authenticity of these hadiths has been fully established by Muslim scholars. One can safely depend upon them for guidance in all matters of life.

[1] Mishkdt, No. 198.

[2] Ibid., No. 228.

[3] Ibid., No. 218.

[4] Ibid., No. 223.

[5] Ibid., No. 198.

[6] Sahih al-Bukhari, (Damuscus: 1993), 1:21.

[1] Fazlie, 1993, p. 1.

[1] There are hundreds of books, some in large volumes, written on the unique characteristics (I’jaz) of the Qur’an.

[2] Arberry, The Koran Interpreted, (Oxford: 1990), pp. x-xi.

[3] For details, see Scientific Indications in the Holy Qur’an, Islamic Foundation Bangladesh, Dhaka, 1990.

[4] Maurice Bucaille, The Bible, The Qur’an and Science, (Paris: 976), pp. 251-51

[5] For details see, Khan, op., cit

[1] SabunI, p.61.

[2] See the Qur’an, 15:9,

[3] A. Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, Translation and Commentary, (Beirut: 1403H), fn. 1944, p. 638.


[1] Sabuni, al-Tibydnfi ‘UIum al-Qur’an, (Beirut: 1985) p.52

[2] Hafiz means one who has memorized the whole Qur’an.

[1] For details, sec, Dr. Mofakhkbar Hussain Khan, English Translations of the Holy Qur’an: A Biobibliographic Study, (Singapore:1997).

[1] For details, see Sarkar, pp. 297-301

[2] Wilkins, 1993, p. 90.

[1] Theertha, p.49.

[1] 5 ibid., p.6.

[2] Ibid.,p.8.

[3] RV, p. x.

[1]  PDR., p. 344.

[2]  Wilkins, 1993, p. 6.

[1]  Theertha, pp. 116.